Saturday 13 March 2010

Scallop-ology at Webbes Fish Café in Rye

Scallops are funny things. Their sweet flesh and one dimensional texture make them easy to fuck up. Like a damsel in distress, they are easily overwhelmed. But treated with sensitivity and simplicity they can soar to fabulous heights. After 11 scallops each and a bottle of wine we felt like we had become “scallopologists” and had dreamed up our own scallop tasting menu that I’ll share with you later.

We arrived at Webbes in Rye feeling excited about trying their scallop tasting menu and immediately were worried. The downstairs café was bustling and looked fun. But the upstairs restaurant felt tacky and provincial. Posters in cheap frames advertised their Christmas party menu and the lighting was about as flattering as Basil Fawlty after half a dozen pints of gin. We then asked to move table, away from a view of the toilet and staircase and felt sorry for the next couple who were dumped their. I excitedly chose a bottle of Bacchus from Chapel Down but was told they had run out. Luckily this was the end of any negatives and the scallop marathon commenced…

Scallop with parsnip soup

A small cup of curried parsnip soup adorned with a seared scallop set us on our way. The gently spiced flavour of sweet parsnip complimented the scallop very well. The luscious texture of the soup matched the fishy flesh perfectly. It was an attractive and tasty start that filled us with a sense of reassurance.

Scallop ceviche

Scallop ceviche was far less successful. The flesh had lost its bounce and the marinade was underpowered. Worse still, the minced red peppers anchoring the plate, were overpowering and seemed out of place. It would have been far better with a lick of chilli, some shallots and perhaps a slither of avocado. If you’d served this to a Peruvian they would have been disappointed that one of their national treasures had been let down.

Thai scallop

A Thai style scallop with citrus dressing, bean sprouts, coriander and sesame seeds was a bit like a deconstructed Vietnamese summer roll. But without the soft wrapper and sweet hoisin dipping sauce. Cowie enjoyed this one more than me. It was very pretty and an excellent idea. But I wanted something that elevated it above being a dainty salad and something sweet to give the scallop a hand.

Black pudding and scallops

“Scallops and black pudding” has probably appeared on most restaurant menus in the UK in the last few years. And rightly so. It’s a cracker. Their addition of a slice of tart apple at the bottom worked brilliantly. It set the saliva glands pumping and made you really focus on the scallop. This dish stood out for us as the one that most elegantly showcased how to create a scallop dish. You need to provide the stuff the scallop doesn’t have: texture, tartness, meatiness. And this dish did it head on.

Scallop and pork belly

The kitchen’s second attempt at pork belly and scallops was excellent. Because the pork was so soft and tasty, we’ll forgive them for the first cold effort and the flabby skin. It reminded me of a moment in Master Chef last year when Greg Wallace almost had a fit when someone served him a dish like this one. He raged against the idiotic idea of mixing scallops with pork which unfortunately shows his ignorance. It’s a classic combination that you'll across Asia, Australia and Spain and got a definite Ole from us.

We thoroughly enjoyed our evening and warmed to Webbes by the end of the evening and at 32 quid each it was great value. They cooked each an every scallop with care, precision and only came unstuck with more challenging dishes and because they were slightly overwhelmed by the number of diners they were looking after. We'd both love to have a fun, fishy lunch in the downstairs cafe.

As we tucked into a fairly solid panna cotta and treacly espresso we hatched a plan to take the restaurant over and strip it back to its warehouse roots. We decided to turn it into a Rye version of Smiths of Smthfield, but for seafood with exposed brick walls, an open kitchen and a scallop tasting menu like this:

Scallop sashimi

Miso blackened scallop

Scallop and morcilla salad

Crispy ‘scotched’ scallops 

Scallops with pork belly, artichoke puree and toasted hazelnuts

Souffle St. Jacques with a glass of Mersault

What's your favourite scallop dish and what would your scallop tasting menu include? I'm intrigued and will try to give the recipes a go in my tiny kitchen in Sweden.

This is part of a small clutch of posts about our trip to Rye for the Scallop Festival.


Alisa@Foodista said...

Couldn't help but chuckle at your description of scallops "Like a damsel in distress, they are easily overwhelmed" I love scallops! I like this recipe for scallops

Neil Davey said...

At Fearings in Dallas recently I had a fine twist on the scallop / pork belly / black pudding combo: "Elephant Trunk" Scallops on shredded short ribs. Elephant Trunk is a fishing zone apparently, not a reference to the size of the scallops, although they were fine, fat specimens and the smoky, juicy, barbecued pork made a brilliant pairing.

Paunchos said...

@Alisa - Nice. Bourbon and bacon scallops sounds like a winner. Might well give it a go.

@Neil Davey - Sounds incredible. I am now feeling like hoping on a plane and heading over to Dallas. Great twist on the scallop and pork combo.

Helen said...

It's a shame that raw scallop dish wasn't up to scratch because raw is my absolute favourite way to eat them. I think their sweetness really comes out and I adore the silky texture. Fabulous idea though, this tasting menu.

Paunchos said...

@Helen - I know. It was a real shame. Top quality raw scallops are amazing.

Unknown said...

These scallops sound just brilliant - particularly the deconstructed summer roll and the scallop and black pudding combo. My mouth is watering.

Manggy said...

I'm a scallop fan, but I have to confess there isn't a whole bunch of scallop dishes I've eaten in my life, and definitely none of them raw (quite uncommon in this country for some reason).
That's a shame about Greg Wallace. I kind of figured he was a hack (just kidding). I love that we've sort of done a kitchen nightmares thing here (except the original wasn't really a nightmare).

Paunchos said...

@Gourmet Chick- They were both delicious. Especially the black pudding version.

@Manggy - I've had raw scallops a couple of time and loved them. But they have to be extremely fresh. Make sure you seek them out.

Anonymous said...

I had scallops with pancetta, peashoots and a sauce vierge on Saturday night at the Crown and Castle in Orford and they were delicious.

Paunchos said...

@Anonymous - Sounds delicious.

Hollow Legs said...

It really fucks me off when I get a scallop dish without the roe. What did they do with it? And why won't they serve it to me?

Nevertheless, all the courses look delicious, and your menu sounds amazing. How would you scotch a scallop...?

Paunchos said...

@Lizzie - I was hoping someone would ask about the scotched scallop. The truth is I don't quite know. But in my head it involves wrapping it in parma ham and then coating in panko and then very quickly deep frying until crispy. I imagine they would be bloody hard to get just right. But awesome.

And you're right. Where the hell was the coral?

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Paunchos said...

@sssferragens - Thanks for stopping by and great to have a new commenter. Welcome.


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